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Cruising Tales: How to Break in Your Crew for Chartering

Step one: Just as you would with your charter guests, when your crew first comes aboard, you must immediately intimidate him. In the days of square-rigged ships, the first thing the captain did with a new crew was to order him up the mast.

In 1969 my sister’s fifteen-year old son, David Sturrock from Vancouver, came to St. Thomas to spend the summer with us aboard Avenir II, a fifty-foot sloop with a center cockpit. We had only seen David once when he was a baby. He had never been far from home nor ever on a sailboat. Green? You ain’t kidding! Mike followed the usual tradition of sending the new crew up the mast shortly after David placed his duffle bag on his bunk.

“OK, David. Glad to see you again. Now, I have just the perfect job for you. You’re light and fit so you can climb to the top of the mast using those steps.” Mike waved nonchalantly at the mast. “This bosun’s chair will be on a halyard tied to your belt, so that when you get to the top, you can attach it to the backstay. Then you climb into the chair and I’ll slide you down the backstay on this safety line until you reach that piece of tape stuck on it. Seize this block to the stay and then rig a halyard for the American flag that we’re going to fly from there.”

David looked up at Mike with shocked eyes. He knew what the mast was and that he was supposed to climb up on those little bitty steps but that’s all he could take in. Except that Uncle Mike was a really big guy and he’d better do what he was told. So up the mast he went very, very slowly. When he reached the top, he stopped.

“OK, David. Just hook the halyard onto the backstay and climb into the chair,” Mike yelled. There was no movement from David and nary a sound.

“Well, what’s the matter?” Mike called impatiently. In a trembling little voice, David said, “Uncle Mi-Mike. I’m…too scared to move!” Well, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We scraped that idea and decided to try step two.

Step two:  If intimidation doesn’t work, then really scare them to death.
That night at the Yacht Haven dock David slept in the spacious back cabin aft of the cockpit. Cat, our timid calico female, usually explored the dock when all was quiet. Sam, a black, sleek, dominant tomcat was king of the dock and sometimes chased Cat into the main salon forward of the cockpit where we slept. Around two a.m. their loud screeching woke us.  Mike leaped up to chase Sam off the boat, but Sam was too quick. Besides, how can you see a black cat in the dark?

Mike was not discouraged. “Hah! He’ll be back,” he said. “I’ll have this pitcher of water ready to throw at him.” Setting it down beside the bunk, we went back to sleep. Hardly an hour later, Sam chased Cat down into the main salon again. Mike leaped up and with great form, threw the pitcher of water at Sam who was leaping into the cockpit. The cat escaped but the water and pitcher landed solidly on David who had been out cold in the back cabin.

David awoke abruptly to a lot of hollering and a drenched bed. Since he had not heard either cat fight, he thought that being drowned in his bed was some sort of initiation for becoming a crew. Not a bad idea, eh?

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